Awake: The Best of Live
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2004, Volume 11, #12
Written by T.J. Simon
Although the music of Live consistently has conveyed worldliness, depth, and passion, the band astonishingly came from a small town in Pennsylvania, and at the time of its 1991 debut Mental Jewelry, the foursome looked like a bunch of clean-cut, high school kids. Album after album of passionate modern rock followed, and the boys grew along with their stature and fan base. Thirteen years and six discs later, Live has released an essential 19-song collection filled with hit singles and worthy near-misses. The package also comes with a comprehensive DVD containing 22 music videos along with commentary provided by lead singer Ed Kowalczyk.
The songs on Awake: The Best of Live are arranged in chronological order, giving listeners an opportunity to track the growth and sound of the band over the course of its career. Where so much of the rock from 1991 now feels dated, Live’s early tunes [Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition) and Pain Lies of the Riverside] sound fresh and clean. Much of this is due to the involvement of longtime producer Jerry Harrison, formerly of the Talking Heads, who has a proven track record of crafting timeless music. Over the years, Kowalczyk’s voice hasn’t changed very much, and his lyrics unwaveringly have bent toward eastern philosophy, which explains the prevalence of album titles such as Secret Damadhi. Musically, Live has always recalled the intensity and earnestness displayed, at times, by U2. However, where U2 spent a good portion of the 1990s winking at fans during the Zoo TV era, Live never descended into kitsch or transformed itself into its own punch line.
Every song by Live that ever garnered radio or video play during the ’90s is included on Awake: The Best of Live. The Beauty of Gray and Selling the Drama open the series of tracks culled from the immensely popular Throwing Copper, although some of the most interesting material comes from Live’s more recent (and less commercially successful) efforts. On these latter-day outings, the band added more texture and nuance to its music by employing string arrangements and by placing a heavier reliance upon piano. Run to the Water and Dance with You are perfect examples of power ballads with the strength to carry the ensemble well into the new century, and Heaven, from last year’s Bird’s of Pray, has Kowalczyk softening and conveying heartfelt emotions after the birth of his daughter.
The oddities on Awake: The Best of Live are also a pleasure. We Deal in Dreams is an early, unreleased track that’s every bit of good as the tunes that appeared on Live’s biggest selling albums, while Run Away is a duet between Kowalczyk and alt-country chanteuse Shelby Lynn that never received quite the attention from the mainstream as it deserved. The disc closes with a cover of Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line — an interesting but worthy effort that also sounds a bit out of place among the balance of band’s catalog. Alternate versions of music videos for the songs Turn My Head and Heaven are also included on the jam-packed DVD.
In short, Awake: The Best of Live is the perfect greatest hits collection; it’s comprehensive and contains little filler or dead space. For the uninitiated, the album is a great introduction to an important band, and for true believers, it compiles everything one might need into a single comprehensive package.
Awake: The Best of Live is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box